Mormonism and the Martyrdom of St. Stephen

St. Stephen’s martyrdom, which we celebrate today, includes a valuable gem in discussing prayer with the LDS, better known as the Mormons.  Mormons refuse to pray to Jesus, because they don’t see prayer to Him in the New Testament:

So, it is abundantly clear in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount that we are instructed, indeed commanded (contrary to CRI’s claim), to pray to the Father. Nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to pray to Jesus. Nor, am I aware of any passage of scripture in the New Testament that records any person approaching Jesus Christ in prayer as opposed to the Father.

Yes, it is correct to say that Israel prayed to Jehovah, who was the same person as Jesus. But should we do all that the Israelites did? Should we perform all that the Jews did for Jehovah? Should we continue animal sacrifice? Should we continue in the practice of circumcision? No, of course not. The Law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus. So, just as many of the practices under the Law of Moses should not be practiced today, due to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles and prophets, nor should we use the Old Testament as our guide at the expense of Jesus Christ’s words and commands to pray to the Father.

There is no other command, in regard to whom we should pray, but that of Jesus to pray to the Father. Latter-day Saints have been taught in kind. 

So while both Catholics and LDS agree on the importance of praying to the Father, the LDS claim that this should be done to the exclusion of the Son.  Although they acknowledge that prayer to Jesus occurred in the Old Testament, Mormons refuse to do it today because they don’t see it in the New Testament.  This is where St. Stephen’s martyrdom comes in.

Johann von Schraudolph, Stoning of Stephen (1850)

In St. Luke’s account of the Passion, Jesus begins and ends His Crucifixion with prayers to the Father.  He begins by praying for the forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:33-34a):

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

He ends by commending His Spirit to the Father (Luke 23:44-46):

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Compare this with Luke’s account of St. Stephen’s martyrdom, from Acts 7:55-60,

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. 

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

So he prays to Jesus in exactly the same way that Jesus prays to the Father.  In fact, Luke even refers to it as prayer.  It’s true that Jesus calls us to pray to the Father, but nowhere does He negate the Old Testament practice of praying to Himself, and the New Testament shows from the earliest days, that prayers to the Son continued in Christianity.  Scripturally, this is an open-and-shut case.

Of course, in the context of Mormonism, all of this touches on much bigger issues, like the Trinity, and the fact that we’re called to worship Jesus Christ (which LDS also deny).

26 Comments

  1. “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, [be] unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”

  2. Your thoughts are interesting. As this post focuses greatly on prayer, could you explain why Catholics pray to Saints? If you have scripture references on where Jesus prayed to saints, I would look forward to reading those. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jen – I see a precedent from the life of Jesus in the accounts of His Transfiguration. Luke makes a point of telling us that Jesus was at prayer when He was transfigured. That Moses and Elijah were “drawn into the conversation” so to speak, shows that the saints around God’s throne – to whom we are connected in the Body of Christ – can play a part in our times of prayer. There is a difference of course between our experience of the Communion of Saints and Jesus’ at the Transfiguration; the saints do not respond to us. The communication is strictly one way – us asking them to pray for us (except in those exceedingly rare instances when God may decide otherwise). I believe another respondent already made reference to the heavenly intercession of the saints in the Book of Revelation.

    2. “And God said to him: And I know that thou didst it with a sincere heart: and therefore I withheld thee from sinning against me, and I suffered thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife, for he is a prophet: and HE SHALL PRAY FOR THEE, and thou shalt live: but if thou wilt not restore her, know that thou shalt surely die, thou and all that are thine.” — Genesis 20:6,7

      Abimelech was indeed having a conversation with God, but in order to save his life, God required the intercession of Abraham.

      It’s not hard to find other examples after this same pattern.

    3. Thank you kindly.

      If I may, as a Mormon, I would like to respond to some of the thoughts you shared. I seek no argument, rather to post an alternate view.

      I do not worship the leadership of the LDS church or their views, past or present, as I expect that you would not worship various priests of your faith. I respect Elder McConkie’s remarks, as quoted in the speech he gave, however, I regard scripture more, and from time to time, acknowledge that some of the leaders’ remarks must be compared more fully with scripture. That said, I also believe God speaks to any man seeking, and upbraideth not, as James tells us in his epistle.

      That said, I would like to share an example from the Book of Mormon. Feel free to delete this comment if you are afraid of such sharing. I would hope you would not be fearful of such things, however, but I don’t put it past anyone to be afraid of an alternate view.

      In the Book of Mormon, there is a direct reference where Jesus visited the people of the Americas after His resurrection. He commanded his disciples to pray. (A direct account can be found here: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/3-ne/19.17-25?lang=eng#16. Sorry, I don’t know how to hyperlink it shorter!:) They prayed directly *to* Him, and shortly afterward the verses describe that “the light of His countenance did shine upon them”. I have heard counsel to generally pray to the Father, but never have I been “refused” to pray to Christ. He is God. I am not sure why Elder McConkie did not recognize this reference in his views in that speech, and I won’t attempt to speak for him.

      Thank you for sharing your views. I appreciate the opportunity to give mine own views more examination following your critique.

    4. “I am not sure why Elder McConkie did not recognize this reference in his views in that speech, and I won’t attempt to speak for him…”

      “To whom did Stephen pray? Sectarian commentators say he prayed to Jesus and not to the Father, and they accordingly claim this instance as justification for the apostate practice of addressing prayers to the Son. From the day of Adam, through all ages, however, the true order of prayer has been to “call upon God in the name of the Son.” (Moses 5:8) The only scriptural instances in which prayers were addressed directly to the Son were when—and because!—that Holy Being, as a resurrected personage, was standing before the petitioners. (3 Nephi 19:18-36)” –Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 Vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1965–1973), 2:79.

      Mr. McConkie not only recognized the reference, but uses it to argue directly against your point on Nephi, and Joe’s point on Acts.

    5. Well, if you call that an argument. Really — it’s morally acceptable to the Son provided that He’s standing in front of you? How on earth can that make a practice acceptable that is otherwise sufficient to make you an apostate?

    6. “I do not worship the leadership of the LDS church or their views, past or present, as I expect that you would not worship various priests of your faith. I respect Elder McConkie’s remarks, as quoted in the speech he gave, however, I regard scripture more, and from time to time, acknowledge that some of the leaders’ remarks must be compared more fully with scripture. “

      Let us compare your words to Scripture. What scripture tells us is that the Church of God is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your willingness to dismiss your elders’ teachings shows you know it is not the true church you are discussing. Why do you not either evict the false teachers or abandon that church to search for the true one?

  3. There’s no reference I’m aware of that He did.

    The cliff notes of Catholic doctrine on prayers to saints is that whatever Christ as sole mediator means, it does not mean that Christians shouldn’t ask each other for prayers. For the faithful that have departed, in almost every way they aren’t dead but are more alive than we are.

    We see saints and angels presenting the prayers of the faithful to God as if they were incense in Revelation 5:8 and 8:4.

    1. Hi, Daniel–yes and amen–and we also can go to Scripture to understand what is meant when St. Paul speaks of Jesus as “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5). For in Heb 11:24, Scripture tells us what the “one mediator” mediates: Jesus is the mediator of a *new covenant*. Thus 1 Tim 2:5 simply can’t be used to support the view against praying for the intercession of the saints in Heaven. God bless! Deacon JR

  4. Why dignify the Moron Mormon cult with any comment? They are crazy! They believe in three gods and these are only the gods who look after this part of the universe. Joseph Smith was a charlatan, bigamist, soothsayer, water diviner, and the existence of this cult is a testimony to how gullible Americans are when they are culturally cut off from Western religious culture. No European would believe such GUFF. Rather than affirming anything they are witness to how ridiculous some religious expression is. How fictitious and grabbing at straws. How a group can be built around a lie.
    Mormons should be snubbed, isolated, attacked and allowed to implode.

    1. There is nothing wrong with a Catholic blog which speaks about Mormonism, because I am sure there are some Mormons who take Jesus command to love seriously and will or have read this blog, even if they do not believe Jesus is God. You seem to be forgetting Islam, which is the Mormonism of Europe. Both began with miraculous visions and extra biblical texts. Both encouraged polygamy. Both led cultural and religious revolutions, and both groups are growing in numbers. Both groups believe that Jesus was a great prophet, but was not God. The author does well to confront Mormonism, since we all must confront our own ignorance whether we be Catholic, Mormon, Protestant, from Europe, America, or somewhere else.

    2. For the same reason that Jonah had to go to Ninevah. It’s not hard to imagine Jonah saying, “Ninevah should be snubbed, isolated, attacked and allowed to implode.”

      “No European would believe such GUFF.” They’ll believe that, and things even more ridiculous. Madame Blavatsky was, after all, a European. You might also look up “British Israelism”.

    3. Why dignify the Moron Mormon cult with any comment? They are crazy! They believe in three gods and these are only the gods who look after this part of the universe. Joseph Smith was a charlatan, bigamist, soothsayer, water diviner, and the existence of this cult is a testimony to how gullible Americans are when they are culturally cut off from Western religious culture. No European would believe such GUFF. Rather than affirming anything they are witness to how ridiculous some religious expression is. How fictitious and grabbing at straws. How a group can be built around a lie.
      Mormons should be snubbed, isolated, attacked and allowed to implode
      ….,” said no successful Mormon evangelizer ever.

    4. John,

      You say, “Why dignify the Moron Mormon cult with any comment?” Let’s consider. We’re talking about millions of LDS members, each with an eternal soul. In Europe alone, contrary to your “No European would believe such GUFF” claim, statistics show that: “At the beginning of the year 2000, there were 404,109 [LDS] members in Europe (including Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland), living in 100 stakes and about 57 missions.”  Worldwide, it has membership of about 14.4 million.

      Obviously, the religious claims the LDS are making need to be addressed.  My post did that, addressing one specific Mormon doctrine on the merits, showing why it’s wrong. You apparently find this to be a waste of time, and spent your time name-calling and making snobby and baseless claims (like the “no European” one).   I disagree.

      I.X.,

      Joe

  5. There are several New Testament references that address this with the most obvious being John 14:6 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
    So how do we speak to the Father but through the prayers to Jesus himself?

    1. That argument is unlikely to be successful since it can be claimed that, in essence, Jesus is the mailman who delivers our letter to the Father. The mailman delivers the mail, and it all passes through his hands, but the mail is not addressed to the mailman.

      Understand that I do not believe the mailman analogy to be correct; I am just pointing out that you must be prepared for this kind of answer.

  6. To be perfectly blunt, the Mormon conception of even the Father, let alone the Son, is really only of an exalted, powerful being — but a being that is “god” only of this planet, or perhaps this solar system. Frankly, such a being appears to be inferior to at least the more powerful angels as they are traditionally understood. I can see why a Mormon, believing what Mormons believe, would not find the Son worthy of worship; this, after all, is no small part of the reason that the Catholic Church does not consider Mormnon baptisms valid. What is not at all clear is why they would, given their understanding, consider the Father to be worthy of worship.

  7. I appreciate and enjoy the critiques you provide of the Mormon faith, Joe. I am wondering if you know of any Catholic apologists who are taking on Mormon heavy hitters like Blake Ostler. If there aren’t any, maybe you could give it a shot. Here is a link to his website where you can access his theological and apologetic works:

    http://www.blakeostler.com/

  8. Hello Cam,

    It does not seem that Blake Ostler really has much in the way of good apologetics. He might be a ‘heavy hitter’ in Mormonism, but that’s not saying much. His website doesn’t have hardly anything new the last few years, and the subjects he covers seem selective and narrow. His ‘most recent’ article is from 2010, titled “The Challenges of (Non-existent?) Mormon Theology” in which he basically admits Mormonism is completely deficient in terms of a systematic theology. From the Catholic perspective, he’s basically admitted his own theology is intellectually bankrupt, which is why Mormon doctrines like Eternal Progression, Eternal Matter, Polytheism, etc, have never been taken seriously by the great minds of history.

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